Wedding Poems: Shelter & Eternity

Poems about building a life

Today we bring you the third and final installment of wedding poems, APW style (compiled from your excellent suggestions and my poetry fangirl-dom). If you’re just tuning in now, we’ve got two more poetry roundups here and here, on the themes Gifts and Laughter and Bounty and Permanence. Rounding out the series today we bring you poems on Shelter and Eternity. As a nester and someone who isn’t the biggest fan of change, these are my two favorite themes of the bunch. There’s a primal element to these six poems. Yes, marriage is about building a life, but it’s also about building a home, about making a fire under your own roof and holding up your ceiling together. Next on my to-do list is a wedding reading roundup for prose lovers, so if you have more suggestions for wedding readings that aren’t poetry, leave ’em in the comments.


A Marriage
by Michael Blumenthal

You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.

But then,
something wonderful happens:
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.

So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner’s arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.

And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.

So Much Happiness
by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house, or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
         the unpainted stairs
at the back, where we squat
outdoors, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire.


Love Song for Lucinda
by Langston Hughes

Is a ripe plum
Growing on a purple tree.
Taste it once
And the spell of its enchantment
Will never let you be.

Is a bright star
Glowing in far Southern skies.
Look too hard
And its burning flame
Will always hurt your eyes.

Is a high mountain
Stark in a windy sky.
If you
Would never lose your breath
Do not climb too high.

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Married Love
by Kuan Tao-sheng, translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

You and I

Have so much love,

That it

Burns like a fire,

In which we bake a lump of clay

Molded into a figure of you

And a figure of me.

Then we take both of them,

And break them into pieces,

And mix the pieces with water,

And mold again a figure of you,

And a figure of me.

I am in your clay.

You are in my clay.

In life we share a single quilt.

In death we will share one bed.

Photos, from top to bottom, by: Lisa Wiseman Weddings, Gabriel Harber, and Emily Takes Photos.

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  • My husband and I read the last poem (Married Love) back and forth to each other during our ceremony!! I love that one so much.

  • Aubry

    I really like the shelter ones! And “so much happiness” somehow reminds me of the section of monologue at the end of american beauty that always makes me happy. It goes something like this:(from memory so probably containing a few errors)

    I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad with so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much, my heart feels like a balloon that’s about to burst. But then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold onto it, and it flows through me like rain. And then I can’t feel anything but gratiture, for every single moment in my stupid little life.

  • Ruth

    Wanted to share this favorite poem, that my best friend and maid of honor read at our wedding. I think it captures something deep and ineffable about marriage:

    Sonnet IX
    by Pablo Neruda

    There where the waves shatter on the restless rocks
    the clear light bursts and enacts its rose,
    and the sea-circle shrinks to a cluster of buds,
    to one drop of blue salt, falling.

    O bright magnolia bursting in the foam,
    magnetic transient whose death blooms
    and vanishes–being, nothingness–forever:
    broken salt, dazzling lurch of the sea.

    You & I, Love, together we ratify the silence,
    while the sea destroys its perpetual statues,
    collapses its towers of wild speed and whiteness:

    because in the weavings of those invisible fabrics,
    galloping water, incessant sand,
    we make the only permanent tenderness

  • MM

    We’re having “A Marriage” as one of our readings. We will be having our dear friends (who have been married over 40 years) reading it together. Next to the vows, this is the part of the ceremony I am most looking forward to.

  • manuscriptgeek

    I may have shared this one here before, but I think it really is in dialogue with the other poems you quote about household, housebuilding and shelter in a marriage, so I’ll repost it. Bonus: it’s a poem about a long-term same-sex love, having been by a woman, U[rsula]. A. Fanthorpe, to her female partner of forty-four years, Rosie Bailey.

    U. A. Fanthorpe

    There is a kind of love called maintenance,
    Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

    Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
    The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

    Which answers letters; which knows the way
    The money goes, which deals with dentists

    And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
    And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

    The permanently rickety elaborate
    Structures of living; which is Atlas.

    And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
    Which knows what time and weather are doing
    To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
    Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
    My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
    My suspect edifice upright in the air,
    As Atlas did the sky.

    • I love this.

    • That Sarah

      This would play SO well as a reading right before the Blumenthal “Marriage” above! This one is about what your partner can do, and that one shows that you’ll do it for each other, turn by turn. I think you might have solved my entire ceremony reading dilemma!

  • Rosie

    I thought of this as an idea for a reading: it’s by PG Wodehouse, from ‘The Luck of the Bodkins’ published 1935. It’s about an Anglo-American couple, and I think it’s funny and touching.

    “He may be broke, having given up his job at the Admiralty and all that,” [said Reggie] “but you’ve enough for two, what?”
    “I’ve enough for twenty. But what good is that? Ambrose won’t live on my money. He wouldn’t marry me on a bet now.”
    “But, dash it, it’s no different than marrying an heiress.”
    “He wouldn’t marry an heiress.”
    “What!” cried Reggie, who would have married a dozen, had the law permitted it. “Why not?”
    “Because he’s a darned ivory-domed, pig-headed son of an army mule,” cried Miss Blossom, the hot blood of the Hoboken Murphys boiling in her veins. “Because he isn’t human. Because he’s like some actor in a play, doing the noble thing with one eye counting the house and the other on the gallery. No, he isn’t” she went on, with one of those swift transitions which made her character so interesting and which on the Superba-Llewellyn lot had so often sent overwrought directors groping blindly for the canteen to pull themselves together with frosted malted milk. “He isn’t anything of the kind. I admire his high principles. I think they’re swell. It’s a pity there aren’t more men with this wonderful sense of honour and self-respect. I’m not going to have you saying a word against Ambrose. He’s the finest man in the world, so if you want to sneer and jeer at him for refusing to live on my money, shoot ahead. Only remember that a cauliflower ear goes with it.”

    Sorry it’s long, I don’t know if anyone else will like it but I wanted to share :)

    • Emily

      I love Wodehouse! This would be a really fun way to include two of your friends in a reading. :)

  • Leanne

    I also love this one:

    On Marriage
    Kahlil Gibran

    You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
    You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
    Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
    But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
    And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

    Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
    Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
    Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
    Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
    Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
    Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

    Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
    For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
    And stand together yet not too near together:
    For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
    And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

  • kathleenicanrah

    oh, I love love love “So Much Happiness” and haven’t read it before. Thanks Emily.

  • A wonderful collection! I am a big fan of Margaret Atwood and Li-Young Lee and it was great to see them included. Might I also recommend Atwood’s “Variation on the Word Sleep?” It is one of the sweetest poems I know, in its own offbeat way.

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